IoT holds great promise for cities, but don’t spy on people

Today’s urban centres face myriad problems; strained and dated infrastructure (roads, sewers, and transportation, electrical and communication systems) are further taxed by the escalating demands placed upon them by ever-increasing populations. While cities are looking to deliver more services and new, better infrastructure, they are constrained by limited funding and dealing with citizens who “want what they want, and they want it now.”

That’s according to Kathryn Willson, program director of Microsoft CityNext. Speaking at Technicity, an event co-hosted by IT World Canada and the City of Toronto last week, Willson provided concrete examples of how the Internet of Things has been put to use in cities around the globe – reducing dependencies on resources, creating efficiencies, and saving costs. IoT is providing viable, sustainable solutions that will help municipalities meet the needs of its citizens – and save the environment, she told the audience.

Take for example the city of Helsinki, Finland, which reduced the fuel consumption of its bus network. While GPS devices were already in use and the city had a good handle on where buses were, city officials sought to answer the question of ‘how’ buses were moving, looking specifically for areas of high-fuel consumption. Additional sensors were added to the accelerators, brakes and inside the engine compartment to measure temperature. Two actionable items were identified from the data, the first being a driver-training program. The second item related to construction of roads. The outcome: Helsinki reduced fuel consumption of its bus fleet by five per cent – saving millions of Euros as a result, she said.

Then there’s Paris, which has an electric-car-sharing program with 4,300 charging stations and 2,300 vehicles. People in the community subscribe to this service. The city’s goal is to have 25,000 gasoline cars off the road by 2023, reducing carbon emissions by 75,0000 metric tons. In addition, with improved customer satisfaction and fewer cars on the road, this new optional mode of transportation is benefitting citizens as owning a car in Paris costs about 5,000 Euros a year, while this program costs about 900 Euros.

Kathryn Willson, program director at Microsoft CityNext, says the Internet of Things brings great opportunities to cities.
Kathryn Willson, program director at Microsoft CityNext, says the Internet of Things brings great opportunities to cities.

Willson also highlighted the value of IoT for cities when used in water management. The City of Breda, Netherlands placed sensors throughout the water systems and on pumps to track flow of water throughout the community. Predictive analytics – based on data points revealing high-energy consumption – allow for the identification of units which are about to malfunction and for their repair on a timely basis, thus avoiding costly flooding scenarios.

One common theme in the examples given is the ability for the municipalities and business to leverage actionable items out of the data, Willson said. Microsoft defines the IoT as “things (devices, machines), the network (connected to things and people), data, and analytics” – the latter referring to applied analytics which are rendered into something meaningful.

Willson underscored her stories of IoT success with a note of caution, particularly around privacy and security and the need for solutions that address the entire spectrum of IoT and working in the cloud. “Technology is advancing at an ever quickening pace – it can outpace our collective ability to understand the trade-offs we are making,” she said. Stressing the importance of trust and transparency, Willson also provided examples where officials were caught entirely off-guard by seemingly innocent transactions.

In 2012, an advertising firm in London placed smart bins throughout the downtown core which then resulted in the collection of MAC addresses on phones belonging to people that walked by. That allowed the company to track people’s movements. This resulted in public outcry and the removal of the bins. Willson stressed that companies and cities need to be sure not to create a “Wild West,” adding that they “should put a privacy policy in place that the community has vetted, involve the community in the decision-making process.” While organizations always face risk, they need to mitigate that risk by ensuring that a foundational design principle of anything they create ? anything they do ? also protects privacy.

Willson also spent a few minutes talking about the pillars of trust which Microsoft follows: including keeping data secure; keeping data within your control, and compliance to ISO 27108 (a new standard relating to privacy and security in the cloud which Microsoft helped write.) She closed by reminding participants at Technicity that transparency is the foundation for building trust with customers as they will not use technology they don’t trust.

“Work to earn the trust. Always keep transparency and interoperability -any data, any platform, any location, any source) front and centre when thinking of IoT solutions.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Italia Corigliano
Italia Corigliano
AVP, Marketing and Communications, ITWC, publisher of 20+ year background in Marketing and Communications.

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